Fleetwood Mac…Analysis

There are certainly some people who prefer the early blues lineup of Fleetwood Mac.

There may even be a few people who prefer the early 1970’s lineup with Bob Welch.

I’ve collected good songs from both of those versions of the band.

But, the truth is, Fleetwood Mac might have been a musical footnote without the addition of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks.

Fleetwood Mac had released nine previous studio albums, with no breakthrough in the United States.  That’s more albums than the new Fleetwood Mac recorded.  Some of the lack of success could be due to their small blues label “Blue Thumb” from 1968 to 1970, but they had moved to “Reprise”, a major division of Warner Brothers during their rock/pop phase from 1970 to 1974.

While John McVie and Mick Fleetwood are a formidable bass & drums rhythm section, it also takes great songwriting, singing, and producing to be successful.  Christine McVie is an excellent keyboardist and singer, but there were no songs she did during those earlier albums that were so good they had to be included in Fleetwood Mac’s repertoire going forward.

With the addition of Lindsey Buckingham, Christine McVie now had a talented arranger/producer (and songwriter) to shape her newly written songs into great recordings.  The proof of this change is her songs on the 1975 Fleetwood Mac album…”Over My Head”, “Warm Ways” and “Say You Love Me”.  She had no recordings of that quality on previous Fleetwood Mac albums.  You can easily hear Buckingham’s influence.  Christine went on to write some of the group’s biggest hits.

Stevie Nicks also credits Lindsey Buckingham with helping her turn her songwriting demos into completed recordings, as he did for all of the band’s songs.

When Buckingham and Nicks joined Fleetwood Mac in 1975, they brought with them the key songs “Monday Morning”, “Rhiannon”, and “Landslide”.  Lindsey’s a great lead guitarist (the reason he was hired in the first place).  That guitar style influenced his own impressive songwriting, and created a new sound for Fleetwood Mac.

So what did the addition of Stevie Nicks mean?  Stevie is a special songwriter whose topics and depth of lyrics gave Fleetwood Mac’s music greater meaning.  Her songs have held up extremely well.  She added mystique with her lyrics, and showmanship with her live performances.

We can now look back with some historical perspective on Fleetwood Mac’s recordings.  What songs do fans still want to hear decades later?  An interesting gauge for assessing the popularity of songs is in iTunes.  With just a click over an album’s song list, you can place the songs in order of popularity. It’s based upon which songs are being purchased (basically the public is voting with their money).  So I did this with Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits.  Four out of the top five songs are by Stevie Nicks, and for some reason, she only has four songs on that album of sixteen songs.

Maybe it was a fluke, so I did the same thing with the 36 song collection The Very Best Of Fleetwood Mac.  Stevie Nicks wrote 9 of the top 10 purchased songs.  The other one, at number 4, was “Tusk” by Lindsey Buckingham.  He also had songs 11, 12, & 13…”Go Your Own Way”, “Monday Morning” and “Never Going Back”.  Starting with #14, Christine McVie had 5 of the next 7 songs.

It’s extremely obvious that Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham were the key ingredients to turn Fleetwood Mac into the amazingly successful band they became.  However, they were also lucky to get into Fleetwood Mac.  The band had a recording contract, and Lindsey and Stevie were barely getting by financially.

Fans are fortunate those particular five people came together when they did.  The only rock band in the 1970’s that was as successful as Fleetwood Mac was the Eagles.  They toured together in the 1970’s, and just this July, the two groups co-headlined the “Classic West Festival” in L.A., and the “Classic East Festival” in New York.

Appropriately, Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame together in 1998 (when the Hall’s membership was still mainly rock artists).  That same year, my wife, Jeannette, and I went to Cleveland and took a memorable tour of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Museum (there’s an article about it).  We got to see the displays for those two classic groups.

Update:  Stevie Nicks was inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame as a solo artist (2019), the first woman inducted twice.

Fleetwood Mac…History

Who did the song “Black Magic Woman”?

You’re right if you say Santana, and in 1970.  But, it was first done by English band Fleetwood Mac in 1968.   The original is very good, but Santana’s is the definitive version.  The song was written by Mac founder Peter Green.  Green had replaced Eric Clapton in John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers, and decided to start his own band with fellow Bluesbreakers Mick Fleetwood and John McVie.  They were a blues band from 1968 into 1970, and were popular in Britain, with songs like “Oh Well”, “Albatross” (a #1 instrumental), and “The Green Manalishi”.  Unfortunately, Peter Green suffered from mental problems that may have been made worse by his taking LSD.  He left the band in 1970, and that was the end of phase one.

1970 to 1974 was a major switch for Fleetwood Mac to a Rock/Pop sound.  The lineup changed many times, except for Mick Fleetwood (drums), John McVie (bass), and Christine McVie (keyboards & vocals).  Christine had married John McVie in 1968.  It’s of note that prior to joining Fleetwood Mac, Christine Perfect (her real name) had twice been voted Britain’s Female Artist of the Year.  She left her band Chicken Shack (real name) to officially join Fleetwood Mac in 1970.  A major addition to the band was singer-songwriter and guitarist Bob Welch.  Fleetwood Mac had some minor success with their albums and songs like “Hypnotized”, but never really broke through.  Bob Welch left the band in 1974.  End of phase two.

When Mick Fleetwood checked on Sound City Studios as a possible location to record (the band had moved to L.A.) he heard a track from the album Buckingham Nicks played as a demonstration of the studio.  Lindsey Buckingham was introduced to Fleetwood.  Eventually, Mick offered Lindsey a job, and he accepted as long as his girlfriend and partner Stevie Nicks could also join.  Prior to the final “yes”, Stevie met with Christine McVie, because Mick Fleetwood wanted her approval too.  The two women got along great, and Fleetwood Mac began their last major phase.

………..Mick………………John………..Christine…………Lindsey…..Stevie…….

Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks gave Fleetwood Mac an almost completely new sound.  It really was like a new band, so maybe that’s why they did what most new bands do…they titled their first album the name of the group.  (It had also been the name of the old blues band’s very first album in 1968.)

Fleetwood Mac came out in July of 1975.  Knowing that the album has “Monday Morning” (Buckingham), “Rihannon” (Nicks) “Over My Head” (McVie), “Landslide” (Nicks) and “Say You Love Me” (McVie), it might be imagined that it was an instant hit.  It wasn’t, but the band toured almost constantly, and after 15 months, the album finally hit #1.

All that touring can add stress to already tenuous relationships.  Marriages were ending for Mick Fleetwood and John & Christine McVie, as was the relationship between Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks.  So, of course, it was time to make another album.

The members of Fleetwood Mac simply pushed through all their personal problems, and used them in their songwriting.  Stevie Nicks says they had worked too hard to achieve success, and they weren’t going to let anything break up the band.  Rumours is among the best albums ever recorded.

Released in February of 1977, it had four big hits…”Dreams” #1, , “Don’t Stop” #3, “You Make Loving Fun” #9, and “Go Your Own Way #10.  In addition, FM Radio played “Second Hand News”, “Never Going Back Again”, “Songbird”, “The Chain” and “Gold Dust Woman” nearly as much as the singles.  Rumors was a phenomenon,  spending 31 weeks at #1 during 1977, and ultimately selling over 40-million copies worldwide.  It won the Grammy for Album Of The Year over another phenomenal album, Hotel California (probably should have been a tie).  By the way, “Silver Springs” was recorded at this time, and was not included because of time limitations on vinyl (22 1/2 minutes per side, for best audio).  Maybe “Oh Daddy” could have been left off, and some of the fade-outs shortened to allow time for “Silver Springs”.

Once in a lifetime success can’t really be followed up at that level.  Fleetwood Mac allowed producer/arranger Lindsey Buckingham to be more experimental on 1979’s Tusk.  The double album probably should have been a single album.  It was considered a relative failure (#4 in Billboard) even though it went quadruple platinum.  The singles were Sara #7, “Tusk” #8, and “Think About Me” #20.  Other top cuts include “Brown Eyes”, “Beautiful Child”, “Never Make Me Cry” and “Walk A Thin Line”.  The video for “Tusk” featured the USC Marching Band, and the song became a staple at sporting events for years.

There’s a cool alternate version of “Tusk” (that accents the horns) on Mac’s 25th Anniversary Box Set.  There are other versions on various reissues.  Even though “Tusk” is unusual, I love it…the drums, the horns.  I made my own “extended version” by combining the original with the alternate version from the box set.

There’s a bit of a break for Fleetwood Mac in 1981.  Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham each do solo albums.

Buckingham’s Law and Order includes the single “Trouble” which was a #9 hit, and the album is mostly Lindsey playing all the instruments.  It reached #32.

Nick’s album, Bella Donna, includes four hits “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” (with Tom Petty), “Edge of Seventeen”, “Leather And Lace” (with Don Henley), and “After The Glitter Fades”.  The album was a #1 hit, and outsold Tusk.  Nicks wrote 9 of the 10 tracks.  She plays guitar and keyboards for songwriting, but not for performances.

By 1982, Mac is back with their album Mirage.  It’s considered more of a typical Fleetwood Mac album.  The hits were “Hold Me” (McVie), “Gypsy” (Nicks), and “Love In Store” (McVie).  The album Hit #1, but sold about half the copies of Tusk.

It was another 5 years (of solo albums) before they released Tango In The Night in 1987.  It had started out as a solo album by Lindsey Buckingham, but it morphed into a group album.  It had four hits, “Big Love” (Buckingham), “Seven Wonders” (Nicks), “Little Lies” & “Everywhere” (both McVie).  The album charted at #7, and sold over 3-million copies.

Then Lindsey Buckingham left the band (in 1987).

That’s a big loss.  Lindsey was the major arranger/producer for their songs, he wrote, sang lead & harmony, and is a world-class lead guitarist.  You may not even remember, but he was replaced by two guitarists/songwriters/vocalists, Billy Burnette and Rick Vito.  The album, Behind The Mask, came out in 1990. It had no big hits, and went to #18 on the album chart.  The album received really mixed reviews, with some critics calling it a refreshing change.  It did include some good songs.  My favorite is a Burnette-Vito song “When The Sun Goes Down”, but except for the cool background vocals by Nicks & McVie, the song doesn’t sound like Fleetwood Mac.  The album is treated by the group as if it never existed.

Speaking of not existing.  Another Fleetwood Mac album, Time, came out in 1995.  It didn’t have Lindsey Buckingham or Stevie Nicks.  It didn’t even make the Top 200 album chart.  Fleetwood Mac Broke up.

Two years later (1997) came the reunion.  The full lineup of all 5 key members reunited for a live video concert broadcast on MTV, The Dance.  It was also released as an album…a #1 chart topper that sold over 6-million copies.

A year later (1998), and tired of touring, Christine McVie left Fleetwood Mac.

The last studio album by the group was in April of 2003, Say You Will.  It sold a low 218,000 copies on release.  The magic just wasn’t there.

Fleetwood Mac has been touring off and on for years, always successfully.  Christine McVie rejoined them in 2014.  There are plans for a 2018 “Farewell Tour”.

Update:  Lindsey Buckingham will not be on the 2018-2019 tour…please see the Lindsey Buckingham article for more.

(Please see “Fleetwood Mac…Analysis” article.)

Simon & Garfunkel…Almost the sound of silence

Their first album went…nowhere.

Paul Simon went…to England.

Art Garfunkel went…back to college.

In London, Paul Simon continued his songwriting (he had only written 5 of the 12 songs on their first album), and in 1965 released a solo album in England, The Paul Simon Songbook.  Art Garfunkel was getting his master’s degree in mathematics.  So…no Simon & Garfunkel.

But on their first album was a song… “The Sound Of Silence”.  It wasn’t as we first heard it.  Instead, it was an acoustic folk song.  The album, Wednesday Morning, 3A.M., had been released in October of 1964 (“The year of The Beatles, the year of The Stones”), and it tanked.  Then in 1965, a few radio stations along the East Coast started playing “The Sound Of Silence” off the album.

Album producer Tom Wilson made a bold move that was probably the key moment in keeping Simon & Garfunkel from being the sound of silence.  In June of 1965, as Folk Rock was taking off, he had studio pros add an electric guitar, bass, and drums onto “The Sound Of Silence”.  He didn’t bother telling Simon & Garfunkel about it.  Officially, they didn’t exist as a duo anymore.  The remix was released as a single in the fall of 1965.  Simon found out by seeing his song on the charts (which he commonly checked), and Garfunkel called Simon a few days later, because he had also heard about the song’s success.  By January of 1966, the song topped the Billboard Hot 100, and sold over a million copies.

All of a sudden, and to their surprise, Simon & Garfunkel were back together.  Their label wanted an album to go with the hit single.

Columbia Records was lucky Paul Simon had written songs for his solo album, as “I Am A Rock”, “Leaves That Are Green”, “A Most Peculiar Man”, “April Come She Will”, and “Kathy’s Song” were all on The Paul Simon Songbook.  Also “Somewhere They Can’t Find Me” is a reworking of “Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.” with a new chorus.  Both versions are good, “Wednesday” is folk, “Somewhere” is rock.  The album was recorded in three weeks, and released in January of 1966, while the single was still high on the charts.

Two bits of trivia.  If you look at album covers, and some early publicity photos of Paul & Art, you’ll notice that the shots are arranged to make them look similar in height.  Of course Paul Simon is much shorter, as later photos show.  Either Paul or the photographers stopped caring about the height difference.  Also, there was confusion over whether the song is “The Sound Of Silence” or The Sounds Of Silence”.  Paul says it was always meant to be with no “s”.

Interestingly, their next single was not on the album.  “Homeward Bound” (which was recorded just after the album) reached #5 in February of 1966, and then in May, “I Am A Rock” went to #3.

Simon & Garfunkel took much more time to record their next album, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.

I remember buying this album at a bookstore in Lincoln, NE.  Each week they would feature a brand-new album on sale.  I think the price was $2.99.  It certainly was a bargain, because I like everything on it.  Highlights of the October 1966 album include, “Homeward Bound”, “Scarborough Fair” (a traditional English song), “The Dangling Conversation”, “For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her”, and “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)”.

Simon & Garfunkel mostly toured college campuses to support their albums.  They didn’t use a touring band until much later,  just Paul Simon’s masterful guitar playing, and the beautiful blend of their voices.

There was not another album until 1968.  However, they did release some singles…”A Hazy Shade Of Winter” #13, “At The Zoo” #16, and “Fakin’ It” #23.

Movie director Mike Nichols asked Simon & Garfunkel if he could use some of their songs for his new film.  They were reluctant, but after visiting with him, they approved the use of their songs in his movie “The Graduate”.  Smart decision.

The movie and the use of their music are now classic.  “Scarborough Fair” was featured prominently, and became another hit single.  During filming, Mike Nichols found out Paul Simon was working on a song called “Mrs. Roosevelt”.  That quickly became “Mrs. Robinson”.  The song is incomplete in the film, but Simon finished it and the single became Simon & Garfunkel’s second #1.

The movie soundtrack was released in January of 1968, and in June, Simon & Garfunkel released their 4th studio album…Bookends.  It’s another high quality effort.  Side one starts with the “Bookends Theme”, and the concept is a life cycle ending with “Old Friends/Bookends”.  The other major song on that side is “America”.  I love it, and remember using it in the ’70’s as the soundtrack for my college Television Directing presentation.

Side two features 4 hit singles, “Mrs. Robinson”, “Fakin’ It”, “A Hazy Shade Of Winter”, and “At The Zoo”.

There was only one album left.  Bridge Over Troubled Water was recorded in 1969, and released in January of 1970.  I have a vivid memory of hearing “Bridge Over Troubled Water” on the radio when we were in Memphis.  It was raining, we had just parked our car, and we stayed inside to finish the song.  It was so good…it felt like an honor to hear it.

Paul Simon says the song “came to me”, and was not like other songs he had written.  Here’s a way to know a song is special.  S&G performed “Bridge Over Troubled Water” during a 1969 concert, before the song was released, and it received a standing ovation!  “Bridge” was the #1 song of 1970, and topped Billboard’s singles chart for six weeks.  The song and the album won six major Grammy Awards, including Song Of The Year and Album Of The Year.

Other singles were “The Boxer”, “El Condor Pasa (If I Could)”, and “Cecilia”.  The album’s eleven songs feature a variety of musical styles that foreshadowed Paul Simon’s impressive solo career.

The strain of recording the album when Art Garfunkel was busy filming “Catch 22”, and then his taking another acting role in early 1970, contributed greatly to the duo breaking up in the summer of that year.  It was just months after their greatest success.  There would be some performance reunions, but no more studio albums.  Their four main albums are among the best recorded in the 1960’s.

Epilogue:  If Tom Wilson had never made the “Folk Rock” version of “The Sound Of Silence”, would Simon & Garfunkel have been as we know them?  Probably not.  Paul Simon was going to have a career as a singer-songwriter, because he’s just too talented to have failed.  But, two questions remain.  1.  Would Paul have eventually asked his friend Art to join him?  (Despite his vocal ability, Garfunkel would likely have become an architect or math teacher.)  2.  How long would it have taken Simon to move to a more popular Folk Rock sound, instead of the acoustic style on his album The Paul Simon Songbook?

Guitars Guitars Guitars!

This huge art piece made of guitars & other instruments is at MoPOP (Museum of popular culture) in Seattle.  I think this was the first photo I took inside, and the display was an impressive start to our tour.  You can see some of the guitars have mechanisms attached so they can be played.  The somewhat blob shaped museum is next to the Space Needle.

Some of the most famous guitars in the world can be seen at MoPOP.  The main room features guitars in chronological order to show their development.

Here’s a “Spanish guitar” that was the first six string guitar. It was popular by the early 1800’s.  Other stringed instruments go back to ancient Egypt and Greece.  Clicking or zooming  the photos will enlarge them so you can read the information next to the guitars.

Credit C.F. Martin for the design of the American acoustic guitar we know today.  He developed it in the 1830’s and 1840’s.

The larger body made guitars louder, especially so they could be added to orchestras.

It was about a hundred years later when guitars would get really loud…and electric.

Hollow-body electric guitars were invented in the 1930’s.  In the ‘40’s,  Les Paul famously added a pickup and strings to a 4×4 piece of lumber to make the first solid-body electric.  He then added some pieces of a hollow-body guitar to make his contraption look acceptable.  The solid body reduced feedback, so amps could be turned up (to 11?).

The Fender Telecaster (originally called Broadcaster) was the first commercially successful solid-body electric guitar.  It was made in 1950…just in time for the Rock & Roll boom.

The classic Fender Stratocaster followed in 1954.  It featured multiple pickups, a tremolo bar, and a double cutout neck for easier access to higher notes.

 1957 Gibson Flying V!

At the MoPOP museum, you can see guitars owned and played by Eddie Van Halen, Kurt Cobain, Duane Allman, Pete Townsend, Eric Clapton, Paul Stanley, Jimi Hendrix, and other famous guitarists.

Above, Duane Allman’s guitar, below, Eric Clapton’s.

There were a lot more guitars, and If you get the chance, see them in person.  Great job MoPOP!

FYI:  MoPOP also has a lot of Sci-Fi displays, including original items from the various Star Trek shows.

Jim Croce / Loggins & Messina

It’s late July of 1973 and we’re driving by the Hampton Roads Coliseum north of Norfolk, Virginia.  The sign says a concert with Loggins & Messina and Jim Croce is coming August 6th.  Our friends, Don & Linda MacLeod, are with us.  We decide to pull in and buy 4 tickets…and we get the second row!  The Coliseum was just 3 years old at the time and a beautiful venue.

Jim Croce opens the show accompanied by another singer-guitarist Maury Muehleisen.  They are so good.  Of course they play Croce’s hits…”Operator”, “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim”, “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” (a #1 hit), and other songs (like “Time In A Bottle”) from his first two albums.  It’s really cool to hear some excellent songs from Croce’s almost finished album.  They do about five new songs, including  “I’ll Have To Say I Love You In A Song”, “I Got A Name” and “Working At The Car Wash Blues”…which Croce actually introduces as having the world’s longest song title…”Steadily Depressin’, Low Down Mind Messin’, Working At The Car Wash Blues”.

Jim Croce…up close.  (Concert photos 1, 5, 6 & 7 by Don MacLeod, the three shots below are mine.)

We can tell the new album will be great, and we’re so impressed with the two performers that we wonder if Loggins & Messina could be as good.  (More on Jim Croce later.)

Kenny Loggins comes out with his acoustic guitar and sits down at the edge of the stage.  His voice and guitar fill the auditorium, no worries about quality.

Jim Messina joins Kenny, and that sounds even better.  As they go into another song, the other musicians make their way behind them, and soon the whole band joins in.   Wow, they sound just the way a country-rock band should!

I recognized Al Garth in the band (from photos and credits on the backs of albums).  He played violin and reed instruments.  I’m guessing the other players that night were also session pros.

Jim Messina had been a member of Buffalo Springfield in their latter stages, and had produced for them, as well as his group Poco.  By 1971, he was producing the first solo album for Kenny Loggins.  As Messina took a more active role, it was decided to bill the album as “Kenny Loggins with Jim Messina” and the title was  Sittin’ In.  Best cuts include…”Danny’s Song”, “Nobody But You”, “House at Pooh Corner”, and “Listen To A Country Song”.

By their second album, they were definitely a duo.  Loggins And Messina was released in November of 1972.  “Your Mamma Don’t Dance” was a fun, uptempo hit, and other solid cuts were “Thinking Of You”, “Lady Of My Heart”, “Angry Eyes”, and “Whiskey”.

At the time of the concert in 1973, they were on the rise with another hit single, “My Music”, and about to release their best album, Full Sail.  It also included “A Love Song” (another hit for Anne Murray, after “Danny’s Song”), “Travelin’ Blues”, “Watching The River Run” and “Sailing The Wind”.  I remember they were on the cover of the Rolling Stone with the title “There’s gold in the middle of the road”.

Loggins and Messina’s success continued, and three more studio albums followed, but I think we were lucky enough to catch L&M at a great time.  The crowd loved them.

As fans left their seats and came forward for the encores, we had to move to the back.  We didn’t want my wife, Jeannette, to get pushed against the stage, because she was eight months pregnant.  It wasn’t our future son’s first concert, we had been to other concerts in recent months, but this was the best one.

There was horrible tragedy for Jim Croce and Maury Meuhleisen.  The month following the concert, on September 20th, 1973, both were killed when their pilot took off in foggy darkness and flew their small plane into a tree.  Croce was only 30, and Meuhleisen (who was also a singer-songwriter) was just 24.  Besides the terrible personal loss for their families, it was a big loss for music fans.  Their work on the posthumously released album, I Got A Name, showed a maturing of their writing and singing.  Jim Croce and Maury Meuhleisen were certainly poised for much more success.

Who Invented Rock & Roll?

The question of who invented Rock & Roll elicits lots of answers…Chuck Berry, DJ Alan Freed, Elvis Presley, Bill Haley, Record Producer Sam Phillips, and many more.

The correct answer is…none of the above.

In 1937, Etta James sang in her recording of “Rock It For Me”…”Won’t you satisfy my soul with the rock and roll?”  That is just one example eliminating DJ Alan Freed as being the inventor of the term Rock & Roll.  But to his credit, he did apply the term to mid-fifties recordings, and played “forbidden music” by black artists.

There’s no doubt that Big Band Swing was part of the development of Rock & Roll, and if you watch old films of that era, the dancing is a lot like teens did to early rock and roll songs.  Of course the main building blocks of Rock & Roll are rhythm & blues and country (which had it’s own “swing” music).

Among other candidates, “Rocket 88” from 1951 is sometimes mentioned as the first Rock & Roll record.  For that to be true, you’d have to eliminate a lot of 1940’s songs.  “Guitar Boogie” by Arthur Smith is from 1945.   It has a classic rock and roll riff so often played on electric guitar and piano.  It fits right in with Rock & Roll from the 1950’s, but came nearly a decade earlier.  “That’s All Right” was recorded by Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup in 1946 (Elvis did it eight years later).  “Good Rockin’ Tonight” was  done by  Wynonie Harris in 1947, and two years later was done by the man who wrote it, Roy Brown, as “Rockin’ At Midnight”…same song, slightly different lyrics.

Those are Rock & Roll songs, and that’s only a sample of songs from the 1940’s that are rock & roll.  There is no one “first” rock & roll record, because rock & roll isn’t limited to a single definition that can be applied to one song and eliminate others.  It’s a style, and not a certain guitar sound, drum sound, or beat.

In 1950, Arkie Shibley performed “Hot Rod Race”.  The guitar part is similar to “Guitar Boogie”, and the lyrics are not really sung, but spoken in rhythm (first rap song?!).   It’s about two cars racing:  “me and that Mercury stayed side by side.”, and “honked his horn and he flew outside.”   In 1955, Chuck Berry in “Maybellene” sang about a two car chase:  “…rollin’ side by side.” and “I tooted my horn for the passing lane.”  I only heard “Hot Rod Race” fairly recently, and it instantly reminded me of “Maybellene”…which actually came 5 years later.

Full disclosure, I first heard many of these very early Rock & Roll recordings a few years ago.  Friend and music collector extraordinaire, Bill Lundun, brought me up to speed.  And here’s a tip.  Check out the original version of “I Hear You Knocking” by Smiley Lewis.  It’s from 1955 and has a perfect rhythmic groove.  It was #2 on the R&B chart.

Rock & Roll is mostly thought of as starting in the span of 1954 to 1955, because that’s when many of the great early rock artists…like Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bill Haley & His Comets, Fats Domino, Carl Perkins, and more… recorded songs that are still loved today.  Those artists started a movement of music that brought Rock & Roll to the forefront, and they were helped along by DJ’s like Alan Freed and free-thinking producers like Sam Phillips of Sun Records.

It’s not the first rock & roll record, but “Rock Around The Clock” by Bill Haley & His Comets, should get a lot of credit for breaking Rock & Roll on the national stage.  In 1955, the song played during the opening of the movie “Blackboard Jungle”, which includes rebellious teens.   Teens loved the song, and wanted more.  There were a lot of artists poised to fill that need.

No one person or one record started Rock & Roll, it was an evolution, not a “big bang”.

Fake Bands

Did you ever go to a performance by a band you like, only to find out it wasn’t really the band you like?

It seems for as long as there have been managers, agents, producers, promoters and record companies, there have been fake bands.

Through the years, I’ve read interviews with artists who told stories of fake groups posing as them.  Famous bands that have been ripped off this way include Fleetwood Mac, The Zombies, The Animals, The Box Tops, Little River Band, and The Byrds.

                     Would you have known this band in 1974?

Fleetwood Mac’s case happened in 1974.  The group had been popular in England as a blues band in the late 1960’s.  Then in the early ’70’s, they had minor pop/rock success when Bob Welch joined them and added songs like “Hypnotized” and “Sentimental Lady” (later a big solo hit for him).  Their manager, Clifford Davis, wanted them to tour to build popularity, but the band members all wanted a break.  So Davis, who felt he had the legal right to the name, simply put together another band and sent them on tour as Fleetwood Mac!  He figured no one really knew the members anyway.  When the real Fleetwood Mac found out, they decided to move their base of operations to the United States, sign a new contract with their label, and sue Davis.  They were able to reclaim their name.  Shortly after, Bob Welch left, and Lindsey Buckingham & Stevie Nicks joined.  Soon, everyone would know every member of Fleetwood Mac.

Often, it was the English bands who were ripped off.  The Zombies’  “Time Of The Season” and the album Odessey & Oracle became popular in the United States in 1969…but the band had already broken up.  So, what’s an unscrupulous company named Delta Promotions supposed to do?  They sent out two bands to pose as The Zombies!  Can you imagine being a fan, going to a show and finding out there wasn’t even a keyboardist to play those great Rod Argent parts?  I had heard about this con before, but was surprised to read one of the fake Zombie bands included young musicians who would form ZZ Top…Dusty Hill and Frank Beard.  Delta Promotions did similar tours with “The Animals” and other groups.  Finally, the backlash caught up with them.  If you’d like to read a very good and detailed article about this, check out “The True Story Of The Fake Zombies” on BuzzFeed.

In the case of famous/infamous producer Phil Spector, he owned the names of some of the groups he recorded.  For example, his excellent session singer, Darlene Love, did some lead vocals for a group called The Crystals.  The members of the group would then lip-sync to her recordings during TV appearances, and do their best to imitate her vocals live.

For a city celebration in Lincoln, Nebraska (in the early 2000’s), they hired Little River Band.  I knew they weren’t together anymore, but it was a free concert, so I went.  The band played extremely well, but in talking with them, I found out only the bass player (who sang lead vocal on one hit) was a “real” member of the band from when they were popular.

                        The real Byrds on my 45 sleeve from 1966.

This is a common situation.  Promoters often feel they can present a show if there is at least one member of a popular band (and the group name wasn’t owned by another member).   It was that way for The Byrds (until Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, & Chris Hillman reclaimed the name) and John Fogerty didn’t want his two old band mates to use Creedence Clearwater Revival. They had to use “Revisited” in place of “Revival”.

How many bands are still touring without key members?  Lots.  Just off the top of my head…Chicago, Journey, Three Dog Night, Queen, and so many more.  Today, if you hear about a band you would like to see, just Google the name and you’ll find out if the members you want to see are still with them.  Sometimes, as in the case of Queen, you might want to see Adam Lambert perform for the late Freddie Mercury.  There’s no deception there.

                                Brian May and Adam Lambert of Queen

Want to see The Beach Boys?  Brian Wilson (who is the key member) is touring with Al Jardine, another original Beach Boy, but they can’t use the name.  Instead, original member and singer Mike Love, owns the Beach Boys name, and is touring with long time member Bruce Johnston.  Take your pick!

With old bands, it’s always ticket-buyer beware.

The Doobie Brothers

Virginia Beach, Virginia is where my mind goes when I hear The Doobie Brothers’ “Listen To The Music”.  The moment was in 1972 when I was driving between home and work, and The Doobie Brothers’ first hit was coming out of the dashboard.  I loved it.  Their timing was perfect for the country rock sound.  The Eagles had “Take It Easy” just a couple months earlier.  Neil Young and America were on the charts.  The acoustic singer-songwriter movement was strong.  Even The Hollies had a country sounding “Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress”.

“Listen To The Music” instantly sounded like a hit.  “What people need is a way to make them smile.” sang Tom Johnston.  He says the music to the song (which he wrote first) made him feel like it should have an uplifting message, and music could make people feel better.  The song still works.  Using a banjo and acoustic guitars in the mix dropped it right into feel good country rock, and it’s topped off with excellent harmonies!

Toulouse Street was the album.  The title song, by another songwriter and lead guitarist, Patrick Simmons, features subtle guitar work, beautiful harmonies, and even a flute, which was probably played by Patrick Simmons on keyboard.  However, chosen as the second single from the album was “Jesus Is Just Alright” which made it into the top 40.  The song had been on the “Easy Rider” movie soundtrack, as performed by The Byrds.

Now that “Listen To The Music” had broken the ice for them, The Doobie Brothers came back with a solid top 10 album, The Captain And Me, in 1973.  The Doobies could definitely rock.  They were one of the few groups to feature two drummers, and two lead guitarists.  “Long Train Runnin'” was their first top 10 single, followed by another rocker, “China Grove”.  Tom Johnston says the songs were built around guitar riffs, and then lyrics written to fit the feel.

Johnston was also the songwriter for the bluesy standout album track “Dark Eyed Cajun Woman”, but it was Patrick Simmons who wrote my favorite, “South City Midnight Lady”, which is actually a tribute to San Jose, rather than any particular woman.  Besides a great arrangement and cool playing by the band, it features steel guitar by Jeff “Skunk” Baxter who would join the Doobie Brothers a year later when Steely Dan stopped touring.

In early 1974, it looked like the Doobie Brothers might loose momentum.  The album What Once Were Vices Are Now Habits was released, along with the single “Another Park, Another Sunday”.  The single barely cracked the Top 40, and a follow up “Eyes Of Silver” didn’t.  Months passed, and then radio stations came to their rescue.  As more FM stations began to play album tracks, they zeroed in on “Black Water”, which had been the B-side to “Another Park”.  Warner Brothers took the hint, and released “Black Water” as a single.  It was their first to hit #1 (not until March of 1975), and pulled the album to #4.

All the touring was beginning to take it’s toll.  The Doobie Brothers 1975 album Stampede had no original hits, but their remake of “Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me)” did make it to #11.  Lead singer and one of the two major songwriters, Tom Johnston, was hospitalized for a bleeding ulcer.

Jeff Baxter suggested another Steely Dan musician, Michael McDonald, could take over the major portion of the lead singing, and add keyboards.  Thus began…The Doobie Brothers, Phase Two.

Michael McDonald gave the band a new direction and sound.  He also wrote their next two hits…”Takin’ It To The Streets” and “It Keeps You Running” for the Takin’ It To The Streets album in 1976, and it was a top 10 success.

Their 1977 album, Living On The Fault Line, was fairly successful, but there were no hit singles.  It did include a version of “You Belong To Me” that McDonald co-wrote with Carly Simon, and hit #6 for her.

Co-writing was about to pay off for McDonald and The Doobie Brothers.  The co-writer, Kenny Loggins, and the song, “What A Fool Believes”.  It hit #1 in February of 1979, and won Grammy Awards for Song of the Year and Record of the Year.  The album was Minute by Minute, and “Dependin’ On You” and “Minute by Minute” were the album’s other two hits.

Despite all the success with the R&B leanings of this version of the band, there were disagreements and some membership changes.  The final album of The Doobie Brothers, Phase Two was released in September of 1980, One Step Closer.  It had the hits “Real Love” and “One Step Closer”, but was a definite come down from Minute by Minute.

In 1981, The Doobie Brothers disbanded.

Phase Three didn’t start until six years later.  Members of the band got together to play a 1987 benefit for Vietnam Veterans.  Eventually, the original Tom Johnston/Patrick Simmons lineup reunited for the album Cycles in 1989.  They scored a top 10 hit with “The Doctor”, and the album reached #17.

Although they continued to record, Phase Three has really been about playing live shows for their fans.  When Classic Rock radio station KTGL “The Eagle” in Lincoln, NE wanted to celebrate their 10th anniversary in 1997, The Doobie Brothers played for the event at The Bob Devaney Sports Center.  They sounded great!  The band members all signed a large banner commemorating the event, and for all I know it’s still framed and hanging on a wall at the radio station.

I checked to see what the band is doing now.  I found out they’re currently on a tour of the East Coast.  That tour will end with a performance in…Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Creedence Clearwater Revival

Once they took flight, Creedence Clearwater Revival was like a shooting star.

After early band names The Blue Velvets, and The Golliwogs…John Fogerty (lead guitar & vocals), his brother Tom Fogerty (guitar), Stu Cook (bass & keyboards), and Doug Clifford (drums) settled on the name Creedence Clearwater Revival.  They say the name was a combination of a friend (Credence, they changed the spelling), a beer commercial (clear water) and getting the band together after various interruptions (revival).

(John Fogerty, Doug Clifford, Tom Fogerty, and Stu Cook)

Their first album Creedence Clearwater Revival was released in 1968.  It didn’t make a big splash, but their remake of “Suzie Q” received airplay, and made it to number eleven in Billboard.  Things would get better in 1969.

John Fogerty has said in interviews that he felt the next album had to be good…that it was make or break for the band.  He took control.  Fogerty wrote the songs, sang the songs, played lead guitar, and frankly limited input from the other band members.  Their second album, Bayou Country, released January 5th, 1969 was not a great album, but it contained a great single, “Proud Mary”.  This was the song that launched the band.

The other strong song on the album is “Born On The Bayou”.  The term “Swamp Rock” was applied to the music of this group from California.  It was a sound Fogerty liked, and it paid off.  “Proud Mary” went to #2 on the Hot 100 chart.  Creedence would go on to have a total of 5 singles reach the #2 position in Billboard, and never had a  #1 single out of 17 Top 40 hits.

The LP cover represents John Fogerty’s place in the band.

CCR’s second album of 1969 (June), Green River, was a perfect follow up, and John Fogerty says it’s their best.  It went to #1 on the album charts, and included “Bad Moon Rising”, “Lodi”, “Commotion”, “Wrote A Song For Everyone”, “Cross Tie Walker”, and of course “Green River”.  CCR was all over AM & FM radio.  The local band I was in at the time, The Rock & Soul Society,  played “Proud Mary”, “Bad Moon Rising” and “Lodi” as part of our regular set list.

Creedence was not done with 1969.  In October, Willy And The Poor Boys was released.  It made it to #3 on the album chart, and included “Down On The Corner”, “Fortunate Son”, and a great remake of “Midnight Special”.  The year was like a successful career for some bands…3 albums , 7 hit singles, and a lot more album cuts getting FM airplay.

More success was on the way, but unfortunately, the band was having internal struggles.  The other members of the band were not happy with John Fogerty’s almost total domination.  John, who can play all the instruments well, didn’t want to relinquish control, because he thought their recordings would suffer.  John was writing the songs, arranging them, and producing them, besides singing lead, playing lead guitar, and adding other instruments.

The result was another #1 album in July of 1970, Cosmo’s Factory.  It’s right there with Green River in vying for best album.  Cosmo’s Factory includes “Travelin’ Band”, “Who’ll Stop The Rain”, “Up Around The Bend”, “Run Through The Jungle”, and “Looking Out My Back Door”.  That’s 5 hits on one album, and it was their 4th album in just over a year and a half!

My old 45 sleeve from 1970.  Not a happy band.

December of 1970 brought the release of Pendulum.  It was the band’s 6th album and included two hits…”Hey Tonight”, and “Have You Ever Seen The Rain”.  Fogerty has said that the line “Have you ever seen the rain comin’ down on a sunny day?” referred to all the problems the band was having amidst all the success.  After this album, John’s brother, Tom, quit the band.

Which brings us to 1972 and CCR’s last album Mardi Gras.  It was anything but a party.  Famous Rolling Stone reviewer John Landau called it “the worst album I have ever heard from a major rock band.”  What was different about it?  Fogerty decided to relinquish control, and let the other members write songs, sing, and produce on it.  Two Fogerty songs from it were hits…”Sweet Hitch Hiker” and “Someday Never Comes”, but they’re hardly among CCR’s best songs.  Creedence broke up.

Creedence Clearwater Revival had been the most popular band in the country in 1969, 1970, and into early 1971…but they burned out quickly.  Their recordings remain among the most popular from the era.

The animosity among the band members has never been reconciled.  Even when CCR was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 John Fogerty played with musicians that did not include Stu Cook or Doug Clifford.  Fogerty’s brother Tom had passed away at age 48 (in 1990) from an infection following back surgery.

Cook and Clifford tried to tour as Creedence Clearwater Revival, but were forced to change the name to Creedence Clearwater Revisited.

John Fogerty felt that their label, Fantasy Records, had taken advantage of his band, and had never restructured CCR’s contract to more favorable terms.  The legal dispute would delay his own solo success for over a decade.

Eventually, John Fogerty had a solid solo career, and made peace with his own CCR legacy.  Because his solo career deserves more space, it will have to be in another article.  We’ll catch up with “The Old Man Down The Road”.

(The John Fogerty article is now available.)

Linda Ronstadt…Queen of Rock & Roll

What a Voice!  Radio listeners first heard Linda Ronstadt’s strong clear singing voice in 1967 on “Different Drum” by the Stone Poneys.   It wasn’t until 3 years later that she was back in the top 40 with “Long Long Time”.

Linda was putting out albums and touring during the early 70’s, but it wasn’t until late 1974 when Peter Asher produced Heart Like A Wheel (one of the best albums of the decade) that her career took off.  By 1975. The single “You’re No Good” (with great guitar work by Andrew Gold) went to #1.  At the same time, she had the #2 song on the Country Chart “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You), the #1 album on the Billboard Top 200 chart, and the #1 album on the Country chart.  Linda Ronstadt had arrived!

Heart Like A Wheel is terrific.  Backing her on the record was a vast list of talented performers…including J.D. Souther, Glenn Frey, Don Henley, David Lindley, Timothy B. Schmidt, and (with beautiful harmonies) Emmylou Harris.  “When Will I Be Loved” was another big hit.  “Willin’ (by Little Feat), and “It Doesn’t Matter Any More” got lots of airplay.  The LP also has my favorite recording by her…”Fathless Love”…a duet with the man who wrote the song, John David Souther.

From there, she was trail-blazing for female artists.  She had straight Platinum Albums, no woman had ever had more than 2.  The 7 platinum albums that came after Heart Like A Wheel were:  Prisoner In Disguise, Hasten Down The Wind, Simple Dreams, Greatest Hits, Living In The USA, Mad Love, and Greatest Hits 2.  In 1982, Get Closer fell just short of becoming her 9th straight Platinum album (sales of at least one-million copies).  In total, she had 13 solo platinum albums.  Ronstadt also had 21 Top 40 singles, and won 11 Grammy Awards.

Linda Ronstadt was on countless magazine covers.  Rolling Stone, which had her on the cover 6 times, declared her The Queen Of Rock & Roll.

We were lucky to see Linda Ronstadt in concert in 1980.  Her voice and her performance were absolutely amazing!  The moment I remember best was her final encore.  She came out only with pianist Bill Payne of Little Feat.  Then she filled the auditorium with a beautifully clear and soulful rendition of “Desperado”.  Update:  Now a concert from that 1980 tour has been preserved.

In February 2019, Ronstadt’s 1980 concert performance was released as Live In Hollywood.  That tour featured some of L.A.’s best musicians, and the 12-song set is a great listen all the way through.  What an excellent record of that time in her career!

In 1983 she starred in the musical “Pirates of Penzance” on Broadway.  She was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Musical Actress, and the musical won a Tony Award as Best Musical Revival.

Ronstadt had conquered pop and country (4 #1 country albums), and had success on Broadway, so what was next?  An album of Jazz/Pop standards.  People thought she was crazy and bound to fail.

In 1983 her first album of standards What’s New sold 3.7 million copies!  She did two more…Lush Life and For Sentimental Reasons…both Platinum selling.

Linda Ronstadt grew up in Tucson, Arizona.  Spanish was spoken and sung in her family.  Linda decided she wanted to do an album of traditional Mexican Folk songs.  No one would have predicted that it would sell, but Canciones de mi Padre (Songs of my Father) sold over 2-million copies…making it the biggest-selling non-English-language album in U.S. music history!

Linda Ronstadt had success into the ’90’s (back in Pop music) with “Somewhere Out There”, a duet with James Ingram, “Don’t Know Much” and “All My Life”, both duets with Aaron Neville.  All three songs won Grammy Awards.  Also, her album Cry Like A Rainstorm, Howl Like The Wind went triple-platinum.

After three decades of unprecedented success in so many areas, her career slowed down.  In 2011 she announced her retirement, and later she revealed she has Parkinson’s Disease, and is “unable to sing a note”.

Finally, in 2014, she was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame…20 years after she had become eligible!  There are male performers who got in the hall for having one or two hits!  Shame on the voters for waiting until one of America’s greatest and most successful voices had been silenced.